There’s snow and ice on the ground and it’s below freezing here, but our Northern Cardinals are starting to court. These birds are among the earliest nest-builders, sometimes starting home construction as early as February.

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The red males singing on leafless winter branches are so obvious that we wonder whether they’re an example of evolution gone wrong. They seem to be advertising, “Red Hot! Get your hawk food here!” As far as these bright male Cardinals are concerned, however, it’s apparently worth the danger – the reddest males attract the most females. Here’s an interested female:

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Researchers have concluded that female Cardinals consider red brightness to be a significant predictor of a healthy mate. “Seeing red” is a good thing when it comes to Cardinal speed-dating. Lightly-colored males such as this one get what’s left:

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(Brooklin, Maine)